I'm involved in an exciting project at the moment, but I'm realizing that it is going to take a lot longer to complete than I first realized. I'm compiling and editing a collection of poetry by Geneva Merle Chappelle Guerrero a 92 year old resident of Edmonton.
I came upon her work quite by accident, she submitted several boxes of her poems to the Pet Therapy Society and asked if they might be of any use to them. Her daughter Virginia, a long time member passed away last year at the age of 60 from cancer, and Geneva thought that perhaps a few of her poems might be used to help drum up some money for the Virginia Cummings Bursary that has been established in her honour.
As a volunteer with the society, I was of course intrigued by her work and I've now embarked on the process of learning about this woman's life through her poetry.
What began as a 40 page chapbook is now becoming much more. It's becoming a catalog of her life, her memories, and a history of her life in the United States and Canada.
I sat down with Geneva just before Christmas and was dumbfounded to learn that she was the only female jazz drummer in Hollywood in the 1930's and 40's. She has amazing stories about rubbing shoulders with Mickey Rooney and Fred Astaire, and she played on countless soundtracks during the height of Hollywood glamour. She played music all her life and only retired when she turned 80, and has NEVER thought of herself as a poet. She writes because she must, and I'm sure every writer can identify with that need.
I thought I had learned a little about her life through reading her poetry, but now after meeting her I realized that her story is so much more, and I really hope I can do justice to her life's work.
I'm so looking forward to sitting down with her in the next week, and this time I'm taking a tape recorder- to catch everything! She has promised to look for some photographs, some publicity stills used back in the 30's.
Stay tuned for updates on the progress of the book. Here's looking forward to an amazing 2009, full of new books and fantastic productivity!